# Professional and Technical Writing

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
–Rollo May

I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
–Robert J. McCloskey, former State Department spokesman

### Introductory Exercises

1. Write five words that express what you want to do and where you want to be a year from now. Take those five words and write a paragraph that clearly articulates your responses to both “what” and “where.”
2. Think of five words that express what you want to do and where you want to be five years from now. Share your five words with your classmates and listen to their responses. What patterns do you observe in the responses? Write a paragraph that addresses at least one observation.

Communication is an activity, skill, and art that incorporates lessons learned across a wide spectrum of human knowledge. Perhaps the most time-honored form of communication is storytelling. We’ve told each other stories for ages to help make sense of our world, anticipate the future, and certainly to entertain ourselves. The art of storytelling draws on your understanding of yourself, your message, and how you communicate it to an audience that is simultaneously communicating back to you. Your anticipation, reaction, and adaptation to the process will determine how successfully you are able to communicate. You were not born knowing how to write or even how to talk—but in the process of growing up, you have undoubtedly learned how to tell, and how not tell, a story out loud and in writing.

You didn’t learn to text in a day and didn’t learn all the codes—from LOL (laugh out loud) to BRB (be right back)—right away. In the same way, learning to communicate well requires you to read and study how others have expressed themselves, then adapt what you have learned to your present task—whether it is texting a brief message to a friend, presenting your qualifications in a job interview, or writing a business report. You come to this text with skills and an understanding that will provide a valuable foundation as we explore the communication process.

Effective communication takes preparation, practice, and persistence. There are many ways to learn communication skills; the school of experience, or “hard knocks,” is one of them. But in the business environment, a “knock” (or lesson learned) may come at the expense of your credibility through a blown presentation to a client. The classroom environment, with a compilation of information and resources such as a text, can offer you a trial run where you get to try out new ideas and skills before you have to use them to communicate effectively to make a sale or form a new partnership. Listening to yourself, or perhaps the comments of others, may help you reflect on new ways to present, or perceive, thoughts, ideas and concepts. The net result is your growth; ultimately your ability to communicate in business will improve, opening more doors than you might anticipate.

As you learn the material in this text, each part will contribute to the whole. The degree to which you attend to each part will ultimately help give you the skills, confidence, and preparation to use communication in furthering your career.

## 1.2 Why Is It Important to Communicate Well?

### Learning Objectives

1. Recognize the importance of communication in gaining a better understanding of yourself and others.

Communication is key to your success—in relationships, in the workplace, as a citizen of your country, and across your lifetime. Your ability to communicate comes from experience, and experience can be an effective teacher, but this text and the related business communication course will offer you a wealth of experiences gathered from professional speakers across their lifetimes. You can learn from the lessons they’ve learned and be a more effective communicator right out of the gate.

Business communication can be thought of as a problem solving activity in which individuals may address the following questions:

• What is the situation?
• What are some possible communication strategies?
• What is the best course of action?
• What is the best way to design the chosen message?
• What is the best way to deliver the message?

In this book, we will examine this problem solving process and help you learn to apply it in the kinds of situations you are likely to encounter over the course of your career.

We all share a fundamental drive to communicate. Communication can be defined as the process of understanding and sharing meaning (Pearson & Nelson, 2000). You share meaning in what you say and how you say it, both in oral and written forms. If you could not communicate, what would life be like? A series of never-ending frustrations? Not being able to ask for what you need or even to understand the needs of others?

Being unable to communicate might even mean losing a part of yourself, for you communicate your self-concept—your sense of self and awareness of who you are—in many ways. Do you like to write? Do you find it easy to make a phone call to a stranger or to speak to a room full of people? Perhaps someone told you that you don’t speak clearly or your grammar needs improvement. Does that make you more or less likely to want to communicate? For some, it may be a positive challenge, while for others it may be discouraging. But in all cases, your ability to communicate is central to your self-concept.

Take a look at your clothes. What are the brands you are wearing? What do you think they say about you? Do you feel that certain styles of shoes, jewelry, tattoos, music, or even automobiles express who you are? Part of your self-concept may be that you express yourself through texting, or through writing longer documents like essays and research papers, or through the way you speak.

On the other side of the coin, your communications skills help you to understand others—not just their words, but also their tone of voice, their nonverbal gestures, or the format of their written documents provide you with clues about who they are and what their values and priorities may be. Active listening and reading are also part of being a successful communicator.

## Communication Influences How You Learn

When you were an infant, you learned to talk over a period of many months. When you got older, you didn’t learn to ride a bike, drive a car, or even text a message on your cell phone in one brief moment. You need to begin the process of improving your speaking and writing with the frame of mind that it will require effort, persistence, and self-correction.

You learn to speak in public by first having conversations, then by answering questions and expressing your opinions in class, and finally by preparing and delivering a “stand-up” speech. Similarly, you learn to write by first learning to read, then by writing and learning to think critically. Your speaking and writing are reflections of your thoughts, experience, and education. Part of that combination is your level of experience listening to other speakers, reading documents and styles of writing, and studying formats similar to what you aim to produce.

As you study business communication, you may receive suggestions for improvement and clarification from speakers and writers more experienced than yourself. Take their suggestions as challenges to improve; don’t give up when your first speech or first draft does not communicate the message you intend. Stick with it until you get it right. Your success in communicating is a skill that applies to almost every field of work, and it makes a difference in your relationships with others.

Remember, luck is simply a combination of preparation and timing. You want to be prepared to communicate well when given the opportunity. Each time you do a good job, your success will bring more success.

## Communication Represents You and Your Employer

You want to make a good first impression on your friends and family, instructors, and employer. They all want you to convey a positive image, as it reflects on them. In your career, you will represent your business or company in spoken and written form. Your professionalism and attention to detail will reflect positively on you and set you up for success.

In both oral and written situations, you will benefit from having the ability to communicate clearly. These are skills you will use for the rest of your life. Positive improvements in these skills will have a positive impact on your relationships, your prospects for employment, and your ability to make a difference in the world.

## Communication Skills Are Desired by Business and Industry

Oral and written communication proficiencies are consistently ranked in the top ten desirable skills by employer surveys year after year. In fact, high-powered business executives sometimes hire consultants to coach them in sharpening their communication skills. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the following are the top five personal qualities or skills potential employers seek:

1. Communication skills (verbal and written)
2. Strong work ethic
3. Teamwork skills (works well with others, group communication)
4. Initiative
5. Analytical skills

Knowing this, you can see that one way for you to be successful and increase your promotion potential is to increase your abilities to speak and write effectively.

Figure 1.1

Effective communication skills are assets that will get you there.

Maryland GovPics – Baltimore Jewish Council Meeting – CC BY 2.0.

In September 2004, the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges published a study on 120 human resource directors titled Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders. The study found that “writing is both a ‘marker’ of high-skill, high-wage, professional work and a ‘gatekeeper’ with clear equity implications,” said Bob Kerrey, president of New School University in New York and chair of the commission. “People unable to express themselves clearly in writing limit their opportunities for professional, salaried employment.” (The College Board, 2004)

On the other end of the spectrum, it is estimated that over forty million Americans are illiterate, or unable to functionally read or write. If you are reading this book, you may not be part of an at-risk group in need of basic skill development, but you still may need additional training and practice as you raise your skill level.

An individual with excellent communication skills is an asset to every organization. No matter what career you plan to pursue, learning to express yourself professionally in speech and in writing will help you get there.

### Key Takeaway

Communication forms a part of your self-concept, and it helps you understand yourself and others, solve problems and learn new things, and build your career.

### Exercises

1. Imagine that you have been hired to make “cold calls” to ask people whether they are familiar with a new restaurant that has just opened in your neighborhood. Write a script for the phone call. Ask a classmate to copresent as you deliver the script orally in class, as if you were making a phone call to the classmate. Discuss your experience with the rest of the class.
2. Imagine you have been assigned the task of creating a job description. Identify a job, locate at least two sample job descriptions, and create one. Please present the job description to the class and note to what degree communication skills play a role in the tasks or duties you have included.

## References

The College Board. (2004, September). Writing skills necessary for employment, says big business: Writing can be a ticket to professional jobs, says blue-ribbon group. Retrieved from http://www.writingcommission.org/pr/writing_for_employ.html.

National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges. (2004, September). Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders. Retrieved from http://www.writingcommission.org/pr/writing_for_employ.html.

Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: understanding and sharing (p. 6). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

## 1.3 YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS A COMMUNICATOR

### LEARNING OBJECTIVE

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

• Discuss and provide several examples of each of the two main responsibilities of a business communicator.

Whenever you speak or write in a business environment, you have certain responsibilities to your audience, your employer, and your profession. Your audience comes to you with an inherent set of expectations that you will fulfill these responsibilities. The specific expectations may change given the context or environment, but two central ideas will remain: be prepared, and be ethical.

## THE COMMUNICATOR IS PREPARED

As the business communicator’s first responsibility, preparation includes several facets which we will examine: organization, clarity, and being concise and punctual.

Being prepared means that you have selected a topic appropriate to your audience, gathered enough information to cover the topic well, put your information into a logical sequence, and considered how best to present it. If your communication is a written one, you have written an outline and at least one rough draft, read it over to improve your writing and correct errors, and sought feedback where appropriate. If your communication is oral, you have practiced several times before your actual performance.

## THE PREPARED COMMUNICATOR IS ORGANIZED

Part of being prepared is being organized. Aristotle called this logos, or logic, and it involves the steps or points that lead your communication to a conclusion. Once you’ve invested time in researching your topic, you will want to narrow your focus to a few key points and consider how you’ll present them. On any given topic there is a wealth of information; your job is to narrow that content down to a manageable level, serving the role of gatekeeper by selecting some information and “de-selecting,” or choosing to not include other points or ideas.

You also need to consider how to link your main points together for your audience. Use transitions to provide signposts or cues for your audience to follow along. “Now that we’ve examined X, let’s consider Y” is a transitional statement that provides a cue that you are moving from topic to topic. Your listeners or readers will appreciate your being well organized so that they can follow your message from point to point.

## THE PREPARED COMMUNICATOR IS CLEAR

You have probably had the unhappy experience of reading or listening to a communication that was vague and wandering. Part of being prepared is being clear. If your message is unclear, the audience will lose interest and tune you out, bringing an end to effective communication.

Interestingly, clarity begins with intrapersonal communication: you need to have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to say before you can say it clearly to someone else. At the interpersonal level, clarity involves considering your audience, as you will want to choose words and phrases they understand and avoid jargon or slang that may be unfamiliar to them.

Clarity also involves presentation. A brilliant message scrawled in illegible handwriting, or in pale gray type on gray paper, will not be clear. When it comes to oral communication, if you mumble your words, speak too quickly or use a monotonous tone of voice, or stumble over certain words or phrases, the clarity of your presentation will suffer.

Technology also plays a part; if you are using a microphone or conducting a teleconference, clarity will depend on this equipment functioning properly—which brings us back to the importance of preparation. In this case, in addition to preparing your speech, you need to prepare by testing the equipment ahead of time.

## THE PREPARED COMMUNICATOR IS CONCISE AND PUNCTUAL

Concise means brief and to the point. In most business communications you are expected to “get down to business” right away. Being prepared includes being able to state your points clearly and support them with clear evidence in a relatively straightforward, linear way.

It may be tempting to show how much you know by incorporating additional information into your document or speech, but in so doing you run the risk of boring, confusing, or overloading your audience. Talking in circles or indulging in tangents, where you get off topic or go too deep, can hinder an audience’s ability to grasp your message. Be to the point and concise in your choice of words, organization, and even visual aids.

Being concise also involves being sensitive to time constraints. How many times have you listened to a speaker say “in conclusion” only to continue speaking for what seems like forever? How many meetings and conference calls have you attended that got started late or ran beyond the planned ending time? The solution, of course, is to be prepared to be punctual. If you are asked to give a five-minute presentation at a meeting, your coworkers will not appreciate your taking fifteen minutes, any more than your supervisor would appreciate your submitting a fifteen-page report when you were asked to write five pages. For oral presentations, time yourself when you rehearse and make sure you can deliver your message within the allotted number of minutes.

Good business communication does not waste words or time.

There is one possible exception to this principle. Many non-Western cultures prefer a less direct approach, where business communication often begins with social or general comments that a U.S. audience might consider unnecessary. Some cultures also have a less strict interpretation of time schedules and punctuality. While it is important to recognize that different cultures have different expectations, the general rule holds true that good business communication does not waste words or time.

## THE COMMUNICATOR IS ETHICAL

The business communicator’s second fundamental responsibility is to be ethical. Ethics refers to a set of principles or rules for correct conduct. It echoes what Aristotle called ethos, the communicator’s good character and reputation for doing what is right. Communicating ethically involves being egalitarian, respectful, and trustworthy—overall, practicing the “golden rule” of treating your audience the way you would want to be treated.

Communication can move communities, influence cultures, and change history. It can motivate people to take stand, consider an argument, or purchase a product. The degree to which you consider both the common good and fundamental principles you hold to be true when crafting your message directly relates to how your message will affect others.

## THE ETHICAL COMMUNICATOR IS EGALITARIAN

The word “egalitarian” comes from the root “equal.” To be egalitarian is to believe in basic equality: that all people should share equally in the benefits and burdens of a society. It means that everyone is entitled to the same respect, expectations, access to information, and rewards of participation in a group.

To communicate in an egalitarian manner, speak and write in a way that is comprehensible and relevant to all your listeners or readers, not just those who are “like you” in terms of age, gender, race or ethnicity, or other characteristics.

In business, you will often communicate to people with certain professional qualifications. For example, you may draft a memo addressed to all the nurses in a certain hospital, or give a speech to all the adjusters in a certain branch of an insurance company. Being egalitarian does not mean you have to avoid professional terminology that is understood by nurses or insurance adjusters. But it does mean that your hospital letter should be worded for all the hospital’s nurses—not just female nurses, not just nurses working directly with patients, not just nurses under age fifty-five. An egalitarian communicator seeks to unify the audience by using ideas and language that are appropriate for all the message’s readers or listeners.

## THE ETHICAL COMMUNICATOR IS RESPECTFUL

People are influenced by emotions as well as logic. Aristotle named pathos, or passion, enthusiasm and energy, as the third of his three important parts of communicating after logos and ethos.

Most of us have probably seen an audience manipulated by a “cult of personality,” believing whatever the speaker said simply because of how dramatically he or she delivered a speech; by being manipulative, the speaker fails to respect the audience. We may have also seen people hurt by sarcasm, insults, and other disrespectful forms of communication.

This does not mean that passion and enthusiasm are out of place in business communication. Indeed, they are very important. You can hardly expect your audience to care about your message if you don’t show that you care about it yourself. If your topic is worth writing or speaking about, make an effort to show your audience why it is worthwhile by speaking enthusiastically or using a dynamic writing style. Doing so, in fact, shows respect for their time and their intelligence.

However, the ethical communicator will be passionate and enthusiastic without being disrespectful. Losing one’s temper and being abusive are generally regarded as showing a lack of professionalism (and could even involve legal consequences for you or your employer). When you disagree strongly with a coworker, feel deeply annoyed with a difficult customer, or find serious fault with a competitor’s product, it is important to express such sentiments respectfully. For example, instead of telling a customer, “I’ve had it with your complaints!” a respectful business communicator might say, “I’m having trouble seeing how I can fix this situation. Would you explain to me what you want to see happen?”

## THE ETHICAL COMMUNICATOR IS TRUSTWORTHY

Trust is a key component in communication, and this is especially true in business. As a consumer, would you choose to buy merchandise from a company you did not trust? If you were an employer, would you hire someone you did not trust?

Your goal as a communicator is to build a healthy relationship with your audience, and to do that you must show them why they can trust you and why the information you are about to give them is believable. One way to do this is to begin your message by providing some information about your qualifications and background, your interest in the topic, or your reasons for communicating at this particular time.

Your audience will expect that what you say is the truth as you understand it. This means that you have not intentionally omitted, deleted, or taken information out of context simply to prove your points. They will listen to what you say and how you say it, but also to what you don’t say or do. You may consider more than one perspective on your topic, and then select the perspective you perceive to be correct, giving concrete reasons why you came to this conclusion. People in the audience may have considered or believe in some of the perspectives you consider, and your attention to them will indicate you have done your homework.

Being worthy of trust is something you earn with an audience. Many wise people have observed that trust is hard to build but easy to lose. A communicator may not know something and still be trustworthy, but it’s a violation of trust to pretend you know something when you don’t. Communicate what you know, and if you don’t know something, research it before you speak or write. If you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know the answer but I will research it and get back to you” (and then make sure you follow through later). This will go over much better with the audience than trying to cover by stumbling through an answer or portraying yourself as knowledgeable on an issue that you are not.

## THE “GOLDEN RULE”

When in doubt, remember the “golden rule,” which says to treat others the way you would like to be treated. In all its many forms, the golden rule incorporates human kindness, cooperation, and reciprocity across cultures, languages, backgrounds and interests. Regardless of where you travel, who you communicate with, or what your audience is like, remember how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of your communication, and act accordingly.

### KEY TAKEAWAY

As a communicator, you are responsible for being prepared and being ethical. Being prepared includes being organized, clear, concise, and punctual. Being ethical includes being egalitarian, respectful, and trustworthy and overall, practicing the “golden rule.”

### EXERCISES

1. Recall one time you felt offended or insulted in a conversation. What contributed to your perception? Please share your comments with classmates.

3. Does the communicator have a responsibility to the audience? Does the audience have a responsibility to the speaker? Why or why not? Please share your comments with classmates.

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However great…natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once. --Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Read, read, read…Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. --William Faulkner

You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.--Doris Lessing

#### Getting Started

Introductory Exercises

1. Take a moment to write three words that describe your success in writing.
2. Make a list of words that you associate with writing. Compare your list with those of your classmates.

Something we often hear in business is, “Get it in writing.” This advice is meant to prevent misunderstandings based on what one person thought the other person said. But does written communication—getting it in writing—always prevent misunderstandings?

According to a Washington Post news story, a written agreement would have been helpful to an airline customer named Mike. A victim of an airport mishap, Mike was given vouchers for \$7,500 worth of free travel. However, in accordance with the airline’s standard policy, the vouchers were due to expire in twelve months. When Mike saw that he and his wife would not be able to do enough flying to use the entire amount before the expiration date, he called the airline and asked for an extension. He was told the airline would extend the deadline, but later discovered they were willing to do so at only 50 percent of the vouchers’ value. An airline spokesman told the newspaper, “If [Mike] can produce a letter stating that we would give the full value of the vouchers, he should produce it.” [1]

Yet, as we will see in this chapter, putting something in writing is not always a foolproof way to ensure accuracy and understanding. A written communication is only as accurate as the writer’s knowledge of the subject and audience, and understanding depends on how well the writer captures the reader’s attention.

This chapter addresses the written word in a business context. We will also briefly consider the symbols, design, font, timing, and related nonverbal expressions you make when composing a page or document. Our discussions will focus on effective communication of your thoughts and ideas through writing that is clear, concise, and efficient.

[1] Oldenburg, D. (2005, April 12). Old adage holds: Get it in writing. Washington Post, p. C10. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45309-2005Apr11.html

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Learning Objectives

1. Identify six basic qualities that characterize good business writing.
2. Identify and explain the rhetorical elements and cognate strategies that contribute to good writing.

One common concern is to simply address the question, what is good writing? As we progress through our study of written business communication we’ll try to answer it. But recognize that while the question may be simple, the answer is complex. Edward P. Bailey [1] offers several key points to remember.

• follows the rules,
• is easy to read, and

Let’s examine these qualities in more depth.

Bailey’s first point is one that generates a fair amount of debate. What are the rules? Do “the rules” depend on audience expectations or industry standards, what your English teacher taught you, or are they reflected in the amazing writing of authors you might point to as positive examples? The answer is “all of the above,” with a point of clarification. You may find it necessary to balance audience expectations with industry standards for a document, and may need to find a balance or compromise. Bailey [2] points to common sense as one basic criterion of good writing, but common sense is a product of experience. When searching for balance, reader understanding is the deciding factor. The correct use of a semicolon may not be what is needed to make a sentence work. Your reading audience should carry extra attention in everything you write because, without them, you won’t have many more writing assignments.

When we say that good writing follows the rules, we don’t mean that a writer cannot be creative. Just as an art student needs to know how to draw a scene in correct perspective before he can “break the rules” by “bending” perspective, so a writer needs to know the rules of language. Being well versed in how to use words correctly, form sentences with proper grammar, and build logical paragraphs are skills the writer can use no matter what the assignment. Even though some business settings may call for conservative writing, there are other areas where creativity is not only allowed but mandated. Imagine working for an advertising agency or a software development firm; in such situations success comes from expressing new, untried ideas. By following the rules of language and correct writing, a writer can express those creative ideas in a form that comes through clearly and promotes understanding.

Similarly, writing that is easy to read is not the same as “dumbed down” or simplistic writing. What is easy to read? For a young audience, you may need to use straightforward, simple terms, but to ignore their use of the language is to create an artificial and unnecessary barrier. An example referring to Miley Cyrus may work with one reading audience and fall flat with another. Profession-specific terms can serve a valuable purpose as we write about precise concepts. Not everyone will understand all the terms in a profession, but if your audience is largely literate in the terms of the field, using industry terms will help you establish a relationship with your readers.

The truly excellent writer is one who can explain complex ideas in a way that the reader can understand. Sometimes ease of reading can come from the writer’s choice of a brilliant illustrative example to get a point across. In other situations, it can be the writer’s incorporation of definitions into the text so that the meaning of unfamiliar words is clear. It may also be a matter of choosing dynamic, specific verbs that make it clear what is happening and who is carrying out the action.

Bailey’s third point concerns the interest of the reader. Will they want to read it? This question should guide much of what you write. We increasingly gain information from our environment through visual, auditory, and multimedia channels, from YouTube to streaming audio, and to watching the news online. Some argue that this has led to a decreased attention span for reading, meaning that writers need to appeal to readers with short, punchy sentences and catchy phrases. However, there are still plenty of people who love to immerse themselves in reading an interesting article, proposal, or marketing piece.

Perhaps the most universally useful strategy in capturing your reader’s attention is to state how your writing can meet the reader’s needs. If your document provides information to answer a question, solve a problem, or explain how to increase profits or cut costs, you may want to state this in the beginning. By opening with a “what’s in it for me” strategy, you give your audience a reason to be interested in what you’ve written.

#### More Qualities of Good Writing

To the above list from Bailey, let’s add some additional qualities that define good writing. Good writing

• is clear and concise,
• is efficient and effective.

To meet the reader’s expectations, the writer needs to understand who the intended reader is. In some business situations, you are writing just to one person: your boss, a coworker in another department, or an individual customer or vendor. If you know the person well, it may be as easy for you to write to him or her as it is to write a note to your parent or roommate. If you don’t know the person, you can at least make some reasonable assumptions about his or her expectations, based on the position he or she holds and its relation to your job.

In other situations, you may be writing a document to be read by a group or team, an entire department, or even a large number of total strangers. How can you anticipate their expectations and tailor your writing accordingly? Naturally you want to learn as much as you can about your likely audience. How much you can learn and what kinds of information will vary with the situation. If you are writing Web site content, for example, you may never meet the people who will visit the site, but you can predict why they would be drawn to the site and what they would expect to read there. Beyond learning about your audience, your clear understanding of the writing assignment and its purpose will help you to meet reader expectations.

Our addition of the fifth point concerning clear and concise writing reflects the increasing tendency in business writing to eliminate error. Errors can include those associated with production, from writing to editing, and reader response. Your twin goals of clear and concise writing point to a central goal across communication: fidelity. This concept involves our goal of accurately communicating all the intended information with a minimum of signal or message breakdown or misinterpretation. Designing your documents, including writing and presentation, to reduce message breakdown is an important part of effective business communication.

This leads our discussion to efficiency. There are only twenty-four hours in a day and we are increasingly asked to do more with less, with shorter deadlines almost guaranteed. As a writer, how do you meet ever-increasing expectations? Each writing assignment requires a clear understanding of the goals and desired results, and when either of these two aspects is unclear, the efficiency of your writing can be compromised. Rewrites require time that you may not have, but will have to make if the assignment was not done correctly the first time.

As we have discussed previously, making a habit of reading similar documents prior to beginning your process of writing can help establish a mental template of your desired product. If you can see in your mind’s eye what you want to write, and have the perspective of similar documents combined with audience’s needs, you can write more efficiently. Your written documents are products and will be required on a schedule that impacts your coworkers and business. Your ability to produce effective documents efficiently is a skill set that will contribute to your success.

Our sixth point reinforces this idea with an emphasis on effectiveness. What is effective writing? It is writing that succeeds in accomplishing its purpose. Understanding the purpose, goals, and desired results of your writing assignment will help you achieve this success. Your employer may want an introductory sales letter to result in an increase in sales leads, or potential contacts for follow-up leading to sales. Your audience may not see the document from that perspective, but will instead read with the mindset of, “How does this help me solve X problem?” If you meet both goals, your writing is approaching effectiveness. Here, effectiveness is qualified with the word “approaching” to point out that writing is both a process and a product, and your writing will continually require effort and attention to revision and improvement.

#### Rhetorical Elements and Cognate Strategies

Another approach to defining good writing is to look at how it fulfills the goals of two well-known systems in communication. One of these systems comprises the three classical elements of rhetoric, or the art of presenting an argument. These elements are logos (logic), ethos (ethics and credibility), and pathos (emotional appeal), first proposed by the ancient Greek teacher Aristotle. Although rhetoric is often applied to oral communication, especially public speaking, it is also fundamental to good writing.

A second set of goals involves what are called cognate strategies, or ways of promoting understanding, [3] developed in recent decades by Charles Kostelnick and David Rogers. Like rhetorical elements, cognate strategies can be applied to public speaking, but they are also useful in developing good writing. Table 4.2 "Rhetorical Elements and Cognate Strategies" describes these goals, their purposes, and examples of how they may be carried out in business writing.

Table 4.2 Rhetorical Elements and Cognate Strategies

#### Key Takeaway

Good writing is characterized by correctness, ease of reading, and attractiveness; it also meets reader expectations and is clear, concise, efficient, and effective. Rhetorical elements (logos, ethos, and pathos) and cognate strategies (clarity, conciseness, arrangement, credibility, expectation, reference, tone, emphasis, and engagement) are goals that are achieved in good business writing.

Exercises

2. Choose a piece of business writing and evaluate it according to the qualities of good writing presented in this section. Do you think the writing qualifies as “good”? Why or why not? Discuss your opinion with your classmates.
3. Identify the ethos, pathos, and logos in a document. Share and compare with classmates.

[1] Bailey, E. (2008). Writing and speaking. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

[2] Bailey, E. (2008). Writing and speaking. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

[3] Kostelnick, C., & Roberts, D. (1998). Designing visual language: Strategies for professional communicators (p. 14). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

## 1.6 “GET IT IN WRITING”: New Survey Reveals Paradoxes About Workplace Writers

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"GET IT IN WRITING" was written by Wilma Davidson and Thorold (Tod) Roberts, The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee

Additionally, a recent survey of more than 250 working professionals provides valuable insights into how they view their own writing. By suggesting pragmatic ways to improve the writing of emails, memos, and reports, the article also helps students strengthen their job skills as they prepare for their own careers.

SURVEY FINDINGS

Exactly what did the survey reveal? While you can see all questions and replies in the accompanying tables, the following responses provoked the most curiosity:

• Around 68 percent of workplace writers have confidence in their ability to write but only 42 percent of them get started easily—leaving a notable fifty-eight percent of workplace writers still struggling to get started easily--leaving a notable fifty-eight percent of workplace writers still struggling to get started.
• Almost 80 percent say they revise their writing, but only 37 percent believe they ultimately write what they need to in the fewest words possible.
• Approximately 34 percent feel they know what content to include and leave out, but only 36 percent indicate they ever seek feedback from others about their drafts.
• While 66 percent of workplace writers feel their writing works and 64 percent believe their readers are satisfied with their writing, only 52 percent of workplace writers are themselves satisfied with their writing.
• Workplace writers indicate that 90 percent of the writing done in the workplace consists of emails, 47 percent reports, and 33 percent PowerPoint presentations, but only 5 percent of writing consists of proposals.
• Almost 90 percent of workplace writers generate their business correspondence on the computer, but only 4 percent avail themselves of the technology accessible, literally, at their fingertips on the computer, iPad, and smart phone to dictate a draft that is converted into editable text immediately.

So what might all this mean? If you, like many of the students in our classes, want to know how to make yourself stand out as a writer, there’s much here to inform your chances and to reverse the dismaying and well-documented decline of writing skills in the workplace.

How can you as a future workplace writer increase your confidence and satisfaction with your writing?

Work on better evaluating your own work by analyzing your potential audiences, understanding your core messages, and drafting without being hampered too early by the critic or censor in your heads. Workplace writers’ high anxiety has been correlated with poor writing performance for years but not much attention has been paid to reducing that anxiety. Simply giving yourself permission to say it the wrong way in a first draft before you say it the right way in a final draft can ease the angst of writing.

How can a writer move quickly from a wordy, awkward draft to a concise, finished document?

Demystify your revision process. Workplace writers who write well have learned how to replace the writer’s hat with the editor’s so they can create messages for readers rather than for themselves. You can gain this understanding through such simple techniques as reading your drafts aloud, hearing an audio recording of a draft to spot weakness, asking a class mate to review your draft, and learning to use verbs, not nouns, to do the heavy lifting in your sentences. Use additional editors’ tips for finding and removing the classic symptoms of clutter from sentences and for replacing the almost-right word with the just-right one.(You can find an amusing how-to chapter on removing clutter in Business Writing: What Works, What Won’t.)

How can you distinguish between “nice-to-have” and “must-have” content?

The key here lies with solid audience analysis: anticipating what your workplace readers already know and need to know in order to make your hoped-for decision. How have the readers responded in the past? More experienced colleagues can lend a hand not only in explaining to youthe readers’ needs but also in choosing the hot-button words and phrases that will get the desired attention to a message.

Why do only slightly more than half of the survey respondents feel their writing “works”? And how would you answer that question about the present state of your writing?

In the workplace, or in a college class, a business, technical, or student writer can ask these questions:Has a manager or professor’s feedback been negative and discouraging? Does the writer have to follow up with additional messages because the first one didn’t get the job done? If this survey response reflects a similar feeling that you have “always been weak at writing,” take heart.  This is a common attitude that can often be traced to low grades on writing in school, or to being reluctant or embarrassed to ask another person to review and advise. And it’s entirely understandable because asking for help from another has often been viewed as cheating.

What role is played by the format of written documents?

The survey confirms that email has become the common communications medium for business professionals, and yet many users struggle to make their messages effective. While much faster and more convenient than documents transmitted on paper, email still requires a thoughtful understanding of your own message and of your reader’s expectations. Keep your reader’s expectations in mind when you enter the workforce.

Another frequently used medium is PowerPoint, a presentation tool that generates widespread criticism and yet has become indispensable to millions of business professionals. As with other media, a PowerPoint message is only as effective as the clarity and conciseness of its content and its focus on listeners’ needs, but very few companies provide even brief guidance in how to avoid rendering one’s audience comatose with boredom from too many slides that miss the mark. Learning to master this medium will also give you a competitive edge.

A surprising finding was the relatively low number of respondents who write proposals on the job. While the production of these documents is often led by a sales or marketing specialist, almost every student and employee can benefit from understanding the basics of how to structure, draft, and present a successful proposal. In fact, if new employees had such direction, they might feel freer to pursue proposals and new business initiatives. Here’s another form of writing to master to stand above the crowd.

Why do so many workplace writers immediately go to the keyboard but rarely to the “record” button?

With 30 to 40 percent of workers’ days spent writing, it is curious that they have not embraced the dictation of their messages more enthusiastically. The technology abounds: commercial dictation software on computers, iPads, and smart phones, along with free and inexpensive apps, is easily available. Even the iPhone’s Virtual Assistant Siri is a willing transcriber  -- she’ll take dictation and transcribe it for your editing in a flash.

So why the reluctance to adopt this technique? Do only doctors and lawyers dictate their reports today? Why not try dictated text as a way to “talk your writing,” and imagine yourself more effectively addressing your absent audience, getting started more easily, and having a draft ready for massaging in less time than ever? After all, what is writing if not visible, literate speech? The best writing is not merely talk, but perfected talk. Our earliest language was oral—and there’s something to be said for getting back to it.

On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell used cutting-edge technology, his “electrical speech machine,” to say, “Mr. Watson, come here—I want you.”  And the world changed as a result of his invention. It did so again with the advent of the computer.

We believe that “talking writing” has infinite possibilities for students of business and technical writing as well as for those already in the workplace. While it is not a panacea for the writing woes that stem from muddled thinking, incomplete knowledge of readers, and weak grammar, such a method of generating business messages may indeed help you get better and faster at imagining your audiences, at writing with the natural rhythms of conversation, and at finding writing a less onerous task.

Many managers complain frequently about the writing that comes across their desks, but few studies have asked workplace writers themselves to rate the efficacy of their writing and to share their perceptions. This survey attempted to elicit those perceptions and to infer what these comments suggest about how to improve your writing and your attitude toward it.

Can Technology lead the way to Improvement?

While our survey does not claim to provide an exhaustive view of the challenges faced by today’s workplace writers, it does offer useful suggestions that can make written communications faster, more concise, and more targeted to actual readers’ needs. The proliferation of computers and smart phones, with the ability to text and tweet has resulted in more people writing than ever before—but it has not resulted in better writers. Perhaps it’s time to revisit how people generate their messages. Dictating can be easily mastered and we encourage it as student and workplace writers strive to “get it in writing

Survey Demographics

The 25-question survey was completed by a random mix of professionals fitting this profile:

• males and females
• ages 22 to 60+
• employed by their company from several weeks to more than 30 years
• all college graduates (holders of bachelor, master, or doctorate degrees)
• in middle to senior levels of management
• all employed at global companies that range in annual revenues from 2 to 40 billion dollars, and fromsuch industries as consumer products, custom chemical products, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications
• from almost every business function, including  accounting, engineering,communications, sales, marketing, finance,  human resources, training, research and development labs, and information technology

Table 1. All Survey Responses

Table 2. Majority of Workplace Writing by Percentage of Respondents

Note:  Survey analysis conducted by Laura Hoffman, M.Ed., University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

## 1.7 Overcoming Barriers to Effective Written Communication

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Learning Objective

1. Describe some common barriers to written communication and how to overcome them.

In almost any career or area of business, written communication is a key to success. Effective writing can prevent wasted time, wasted effort, aggravation, and frustration. The way we communicate with others both inside of our business and on the outside goes a long way toward shaping the organization’s image. If people feel they are listened to and able to get answers from the firm and its representatives, their opinion will be favorable. Skillful writing and an understanding of how people respond to words are central to accomplishing this goal.

How do we display skillful writing and a good understanding of how people respond to words? Following are some suggestions.

#### Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Let us begin with a college student’s e-mail to a professor:

“i am confused as to why they are not due intil 11/10 i mean the calender said that they was due then so thats i did them do i still get credit for them or do i need to due them over on one tape? please let me know thanks. also when are you grading the stuff that we have done?”

What’s wrong with this e-mail? What do you observe that may act as a barrier to communication? Let’s start with the lack of formality, including the fact that the student neglected to tell the professor his or her name, or which specific class the question referred to. Then there is the lack of adherence to basic vocabulary and syntax rules. And how about the lower case “i’s” and the misspellings?

One significant barrier to effective written communication is failure to sweat the small stuff. Spelling errors and incorrect grammar may be considered details, but they reflect poorly on you and, in a business context, on your company. They imply either that you are not educated enough to know you’ve made mistakes or that you are too careless to bother correcting them. Making errors is human, but making a habit of producing error-filled written documents makes negative consequences far more likely to occur. When you write, you have a responsibility to self-edit and pay attention to detail. In the long run, correcting your mistakes before others see them will take less time and effort than trying to make up for mistakes after the fact.

#### Get the Target Meaning

How would you interpret this message?

“You must not let inventory build up. You must monitor carrying costs and keep them under control. Ship any job lots of more than 25 to us at once.”

Bypassing involves the misunderstanding that occurs when the receiver completely misses the source’s intended meaning. Words mean different things to different people in different contexts. All that difference allows for both source and receiver to completely miss one another’s intended goal.

Did you understand the message in the example? Let’s find out. Jerry Sullivan, in his article Bypassing in Managerial Communication, [1] relates the story of Mr. Sato, a manager from Japan who is new to the United States. The message came from his superiors at Kumitomo America, a firm involved with printing machinery for the publishing business in Japan. Mr. Sato delegated the instructions (in English as shown above) to Ms. Brady, who quickly identified there were three lots in excess of twenty-five and arranged for prompt shipment.

Six weeks later Mr. Sato received a second message:

“Why didn’t you do what we told you? Your quarterly inventory report indicates you are carrying 40 lots which you were supposed to ship to Japan. You must not violate our instructions.”

What’s the problem? As Sullivan relates, it is an example of one word, or set of words, having more than one meaning. [2] According to Sullivan, in Japanese “more than x” includes the reference number twenty-five. In other words, Kumitomo wanted all lots with twenty-five or more to be shipped to Japan. Forty lots fit that description. Ms. Brady interpreted the words as written, but the cultural context had a direct impact on the meaning and outcome.

You might want to defend Ms. Brady and understand the interpretation, but the lesson remains clear. Moreover, cultural expectations differ not only internationally, but also on many different dimensions from regional to interpersonal.

Someone raised in a rural environment in the Pacific Northwest may have a very different interpretation of meaning from someone from New York City. Take, for example, the word “downtown.” To the rural resident, downtown refers to the center or urban area of any big city. To a New Yorker, however, downtown may be a direction, not a place. One can go uptown or downtown, but when asked, “Where are you from?” the answer may refer to a borough (“I grew up in Manhattan”) or a neighborhood (“I’m from the East Village”).

This example involves two individuals who differ by geography, but we can further subdivide between people raised in the same state from two regions, two people of the opposite sex, or two people from different generations. The combinations are endless, as are the possibilities for bypassing. While you might think you understand, requesting feedback and asking for confirmation and clarification can help ensure that you get the target meaning.

Sullivan also notes that in stressful situations we often think in terms of either/or relationships, failing to recognize the stress itself. This kind of thinking can contribute to source/receiver error. In business, he notes that managers often incorrectly assume communication is easier than it is, and fail to anticipate miscommunication. [3]

As writers, we need to keep in mind that words are simply a means of communication, and that meanings are in people, not the words themselves. Knowing which words your audience understands and anticipating how they will interpret them will help you prevent bypassing.

#### Consider the Nonverbal Aspects of Your Message

Let’s return to the example at the beginning of this section of an e-mail from a student to an instructor. As we noted, the student neglected to identify himself or herself and tell the instructor which class the question referred to. Format is important, including headers, contact information, and an informative subject line.

This is just one example of how the nonverbal aspects of a message can get in the way of understanding. Other nonverbal expressions in your writing may include symbols, design, font, and the timing of delivering your message.

Suppose your supervisor has asked you to write to a group of clients announcing a new service or product that directly relates to a service or product that these clients have used over the years. What kind of communication will your document be? Will it be sent as an e-mail or will it be a formal letter printed on quality paper and sent by postal mail? Or will it be a tweet, or a targeted online ad that pops up when these particular clients access your company’s Web site? Each of these choices involves an aspect of written communication that is nonverbal. While the words may communicate a formal tone, the font may not. The paper chosen to represent your company influences the perception of it. An e-mail may indicate that it is less than formal and be easily deleted.

As another example, suppose you are a small business owner and have hired a new worker named Bryan. You need to provide written documentation of asking Bryan to fill out a set of forms that are required by law. Should you send an e-mail to Bryan’s home the night before he starts work, welcoming him aboard and attaching links to IRS form W-4 and Homeland Security form I-9? Or should you wait until he has been at work for a couple of hours, then bring him the forms in hard copy along with a printed memo stating that he needs to fill them out? There are no right or wrong answers, but you will use your judgment, being aware that these nonverbal expressions are part of the message that gets communicated along with your words.

#### Review, Reflect, and Revise

Do you review what you write? Do you reflect on whether it serves its purpose? Where does it miss the mark? If you can recognize it, then you have the opportunity to revise.

Writers are often under deadlines, and that can mean a rush job where not every last detail is reviewed. This means more mistakes, and there is always time to do it right the second time. Rather than go through the experience of seeing all the mistakes in your “final” product and rushing off to the next job, you may need to focus more on the task at hand and get it done correctly the first time. Go over each step in detail as you review.

A mental review of the task and your performance is often called reflection. Reflection is not procrastination. It involves looking at the available information and, as you review the key points in your mind, making sure each detail is present and perfect. Reflection also allows for another opportunity to consider the key elements and their relationship to each other.

When you revise your document, you change one word for another, make subtle changes, and improve it. Don’t revise simply to change the good work you’ve completed, but instead look at it from the perspective of the reader—for example, how could this be clearer to them? What would make it visually attractive while continuing to communicate the message? If you are limited to words only, then does each word serve the article or letter? No extras, but just about right.

#### Key Takeaway

To overcome barriers to communication, pay attention to details; strive to understand the target meaning; consider your nonverbal expressions; and review, reflect, and revise.

Exercises

1. Review the example of a student’s e-mail to a professor in this section, and rewrite it to communicate the message more clearly.
2. Write a paragraph of 150–200 words on a subject of your choice. Experiment with different formats and fonts to display it and, if you wish, print it. Compare your results with those of your classmates.
3. How does the purpose of a document define its format and content? Think of a specific kind of document with a specific purpose and audience. Then create a format or template suitable to that document, purpose, and audience. Show your template to the class or post it on a class bulletin board.
4. Write one message of at least three sentences with at least three descriptive terms and present it to at least three people. Record notes about how they understand the message, and to what degree their interpretations are the same of different. Share and compare with classmates.

[1] Sullivan, J., Kameda, N., & Nobu, T. (1991). Bypassing in managerial communication. Business Horizons, 34(1), 71–80.

[2] Sullivan, J., Kameda, N., & Nobu, T. (1991). Bypassing in managerial communication. Business Horizons, 34(1), 71–80.

[3] Sullivan, J., Kameda, N., & Nobu, T. (1991). Bypassing in managerial communication. Business Horizons, 34(1), 71–80.

## 1.8 HOW IS WRITING LEARNED?

### LEARNING OBJECTIVE

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

• Explain how reading, writing, and critical thinking contribute to becoming a good writer.

You may think that some people are simply born better writers than others, but in fact writing is a reflection of experience and effort. If you think about your successes as a writer, you may come up with a couple of favorite books, authors, or teachers that inspired you to express yourself. You may also recall a sense of frustration with your previous writing experiences. It is normal and natural to experience a sense of frustration at the perceivedinability to express oneself. The emphasis here is on your perception of yourself as a writer as one aspect of how you communicate. Most people use oral communication for much of their self-expression, from daily interactions to formal business meetings. You have a lifetime of experience in that arena that you can leverage to your benefit in your writing. Reading out loud what you have written is a positive technique we’ll address later in more depth.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement, “Violence is the language of the unheard” emphasizes the importance of finding one’s voice, of being able to express one’s ideas. Violence comes in many forms, but is often associated with frustration born of the lack of opportunity to communicate. You may read King’s words and think of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, or perhaps of the violence of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or of wars happening in the world today. Public demonstrations and fighting are expressions of voice, from individual to collective. Finding your voice, and learning to listen to others, is part of learning to communicate.

You are your own best ally when it comes to your writing. Keeping a positive frame of mind about your journey as a writer is not a cliché or simple, hollow advice. Your attitude toward writing can and does influence your written products. Even if writing has been a challenge for you, the fact that you are reading this sentence means you perceive the importance of this essential skill. This text and our discussions will help you improve your writing, and your positive attitude is part of your success strategy.

There is no underestimating the power of effort when combined with inspiration and motivation. The catch then is to get inspired and motivated. That’s not all it takes, but it is a great place to start. You were not born with a key pad in front of you, but when you want to share something with friends and text them, the words (or abbreviations) come almost naturally. So you recognize you have the skills necessary to begin the process of improving and harnessing your writing abilities for business success. It will take time and effort, and the proverbial journey starts with a single step, but don’t lose sight of the fact that your skillful ability to craft words will make a significant difference in your career.

In the “real world” when you are under a deadline and production is paramount, you’ll be rushed and may lack the time to do adequate background reading for a particular assignment. For now, take advantage of your business communication course by exploring common business documents you may be called on to write, contribute to, or play a role in drafting. Some documents have a degree of formula to them, and your familiarity with them will reduce your preparation and production time while increasing your effectiveness. As you read similar documents, take notes on what you observe. As you read several sales letters, you may observe several patterns that can serve you well later on when it’s your turn. These patterns are often called conventions, or conventional language patterns for a specific genre.

## WRITING

Never lose sight of one key measure of the effectiveness of your writing: the degree to which it fulfills readers’ expectations. If you are in a law office, you know the purpose of a court brief is to convince the judge that certain points of law apply to the given case. If you are at a newspaper, you know that an editorial opinion article is supposed to convince readers of the merits of a certain viewpoint, whereas a news article is supposed to report facts without bias. If you are writing ad copy, the goal is to motivate consumers to make a purchase decision. In each case, you are writing to a specific purpose, and a great place to start when considering what to write is to answer the following question: what are the readers’ expectations?

When you are a junior member of the team, you may be given clerical tasks like filling in forms, populating a database, or coordinating appointments. Or you may be assigned to do research that involves reading, interviewing, and note taking. Don’t underestimate these facets of the writing process; instead, embrace the fact that writing for business often involves tasks that a novelist might not even recognize as “writing.” Your contribution is quite important and in itself is an on-the-job learning opportunity that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

When given a writing assignment, it is important to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. You may read the directions and try to put them in your own words to make sense of the assignment. Be careful, however, not to lose sight of what the directions say versus what you think they say. Just as an audience’s expectations should be part of your consideration of how, what, and why to write, the instructions given by your instructor, or in a work situation by your supervisor, establish expectations. Just as you might ask a mentor more about a business writing assignment at work, you need to use the resources available to you to maximize your learning opportunity. Ask the professor to clarify any points you find confusing, or perceive more than one way to interpret, in order to better meet the expectations.

Before you write an opening paragraph, or even the first sentence, it is important to consider the overall goal of the assignment. The word assignment can apply equally to a written product for class or for your employer. You might make a list of the main points and see how those points may become the topic sentences in a series of paragraphs. You may also give considerable thought to whether your word choice, your tone, your language, and what you want to say is in line with your understanding of your audience. We briefly introduced the writing process previously, and will visit it in depth later in our discussion, but for now writing should about exploring your options. Authors rarely have a finished product in mind when they start, but once you know what your goal is and how to reach it, you writing process will become easier and more effective.

## CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM AND TARGETED PRACTICE

Mentors can also be important in your growth as a writer. Your instructor can serve as a mentor, offering constructive criticism, insights on what he or she has written, and life lessons about writing for a purpose. Never underestimate the mentors that surround you in the workplace, even if you are currently working in a position unrelated to your desired career. They can read your rough draft and spot errors, as well as provide useful insights. Friends and family can also be helpful mentors—if your document’s meaning is clear to someone not working in your business, it will likely also be clear to your audience.

The key is to be open to criticism, keeping in mind that no one ever improved by repeating bad habits over and over. Only when you know what your errors are—errors of grammar or sentence structure, logic, format, and so on—can you correct your document and do a better job next time. Writing can be a solitary activity, but more often in business settings it is a collective, group, or team effort. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to seek outside assistance before you finalize your document.

Learning to be a successful business writer comes with practice. Targeted practice, which involves identifying your weak areas and specifically working to improve them, is especially valuable. In addition to reading, make it a habit to write, even if it is not a specific assignment. The more you practice writing the kinds of materials that are used in your line of work, the more writing will come naturally and become an easier task—even on occasions when you need to work under pressure.

## CRITICAL THINKING

Critical thinking means becoming aware of your thinking process. It’s a human trait that allows us to step outside what we read or write and ask ourselves, “Does this really make sense?” “Are there other, perhaps better, ways to explain this idea?” Sometimes our thinking is very abstract and becomes clear only through the process of getting thoughts down in words. As a character in E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel said, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” (1976, p. 99). Did you really write what you meant to, and will it be easily understood by the reader? Successful writing forms a relationship with the audience, reaching the reader on a deep level that can be dynamic and motivating. In contrast, when writing fails to meet the audience’s expectations, you already know the consequences: they’ll move on.

Learning to write effectively involves reading, writing, critical thinking, and hard work. You may have seen The Wizard of Oz and recall the scene when Dorothy discovers what is behind the curtain. Up until that moment, she believed the Wizard’s powers were needed to change her situation, but now she discovers that the power is her own. Like Dorothy, you can discover that the power to write successfully rests in your hands. Excellent business writing can be inspiring, and it is important to not lose that sense of inspiration as we deconstruct the process of writing to its elemental components.

You may be amazed by the performance of Tony Hawk on a skateboard ramp, Mia Hamm on the soccer field, or Michael Phelps in the water. Those who demonstrate excellence often make it look easy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Effort, targeted practice, and persistence will win the day every time. When it comes to writing, you need to learn to recognize clear and concise writing while looking behind the curtain at how it is created. This is not to say we are going to lose the magic associated with the best writers in the field. Instead, we’ll appreciate what we are reading as we examine how it was written and how the writer achieved success.